The Railway Station of Lucknow, the most common welcome doorway to The City of Nawabs
Lucknow, colloquially addressed as The City of Nawabs, is a treat for the romantics, artists, and foodaholics of the world. It is home to several tell-tale remnants of history, art and culture of centuries. Lucknow, nurtured by the Nawabs of The Awadh Sultanate, embodies the richness of Awadhi culture and their dedicated patronage towards music and literature. Lucknow has been widely known for its ravishing delicacies for the culinarians, the Kebabs and Biryanis and the chaat to name some. The inquisitive unraveling of the Awadhi footprints frozen in time remains incomplete without the necessary mention of an architectural masterpiece dating way back to 1784 A.D., The Bara Imambara.
The first entrance to Bara Imambara of Lucknow
The second entrance to Bara Imambara of Lucknow
The Bara Imambara tells a lore of its own with its intricate tapestry on the walls, the detailed inscriptions on the roof, the exotic Mughlai chandeliers, and the scintillating ambiance which glazes the halls making good use of the daylight. A thousand whispers echo the unheard, long forgotten conversations that fell through the people of old times. History be told, it was built by Asaf-ud-Daula (1175-97 A.D.), the fourth Nawab of Awadh in 1784 to provide employment to the famine-stricken lots of the state during that period. Often called Asafi Imambara, the grand structure which took around 6 years to complete, comprises of a Shahi Bowli, a well with steps, Asafi mosque and the famous labyrinth, Bhul Bhulaiya.
Sitting on the west side, The Asafi Mosque
Mazes of Bhul Bhulaiya
The typical Awadhi galleries around the bore-well in the Bowli
The bore-well in the center with Lucknow’s own river Gomti supplying water
The Bara Imambara houses the sarcophagus of the then Nawab-e-Awadh, Asaf-ud-Daula. The grandiose Imambara has three meeting halls, starting with the main hall measuring a surprising 47 meters by 16 meters by 14.5 meters! The hall is looked upon by roof galleries holding wooden seating, which, once upon a time, were used by the wives and other female acquaintances of the dignitaries presiding below in the meeting hall. Further, it is accompanied by an Indian and a Chinese hall on either side. In addition, it is surrounded by eight chambers of varied sizes. The bricks have been expertly interlocked together devoid of any metal or wood, proudly questioning the reason behind the structure’s sustenance. The labyrinth, famously called the Bhul-Bhulaiya, takes form over these chambers through 489 doorways which are absolutely identical, making it a one-of-a-kind maze in India.
The main hall inside the Bara Imambara
To add to its Awadhi grandeur is the 59-foot high Rumi Darwaza on the west front entrance to the Imambara. It used to serve as the main entrance during the rule of the Nawab. The Imambara and Rumi Darwaza are an epitome of a beautiful amalgamation of the European and Arabic architecture. It still stands bold and proud, as if declaring the masses of the long and rich history it has served as a witness to and will remain to do so till eternity.
The Rumi Darwaza
It boasts about the architectural prowess of Awadhi architecture in impressive details. It is an astonishing sight giving rise to mind-boggling questions like, how does this colossal structure stand amidst the modern day world without any visible support of pillars or likewise architectural elements. The credit goes to the mind behind the humongous creation, an architect hailing from the lands of Delhi, with the name of Hafiz Kifayatullah. He lies resting beneath his creation in a crypt of his own. Legend has it, that the Imambara is home to some secret passages which extend as far as Faizabad (Awadh’s previous headquarters), Allahabad and even Delhi. Truth be told, those passages have been lost now to the pangs of time. On a more serious note, Kifayatullah’s acumen is well evident in the constructional uniqueness of the structure, preferably in the materials used. For instance, the rice husk, a common item, found use in an entirely uncommon project. It was used to construct the roof of the monument! The materials used in the construction of the galleries made them a message carrying labyrinth which relays sound through its walls even to this day. Believe it or not, The Awadh has been telling its story in its own way, an astonishingly grappling mystery left for us to unravel. Perhaps a window into the past!
—- By Kriti